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UNC vs. Duke: Three Things to Watch

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Can the Tar Heels finish and reclaim the Victory Bell?

NCAA Football: North Carolina at Virginia Tech Lee Luther Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

The North Carolina Tar Heels return home after a devastating loss at Virginia Tech in an effort to break a three-game losing streak to their arch rivals. Both teams are looking for a response after Coastal Division losses last week and the loser this Saturday must resort to finding a path to bowl eligibility rather than division title hopes.

The ever-emotional matchup between Carolina and Duke will be in Chapel Hill Saturday afternoon. Can the Tar Heels regroup and refocus after an emotionally draining game in Blacksburg?

As that question lingers, here are three more items to look for when the Heels host the Blue Devils.

More Effective Running Game

Against Virginia Tech, the Tar Heels ran for 143 yards on the ground on 40 carries. When looking at the running backs, Michael Carter had 13 rushes for 91 yards, Javonte Williams had 11 carries for 37 yards, and Antonio Williams took it four times for 22 yards. The total team effort was 3.6 yards per carry, the worst since Miami.

During the VT game, there were flashbacks to a time in Carolina football when the running back was notably absent from the play calling when the situation on the field warranted a run. And, of course, from two yards out, why did Williams not have the ball in his hands?

Yet, when looking at the play totals, there were 49 passes and 40 runs. Of course, not all the rushes were by design, but this is still close to balanced. Looking ahead, the offensive line will face a challenge this week. Duke ranks 48th in the country on run defense, allowing just 136.6 yards rushing per game.

Charlie Heck is questionable against the Blue Devils, and everyone saw how that turned out when he was not in the game.

Sam Howell

Sam Howell continues to carry the Carolina offense. Once again, the true freshman is the ACC Quarterback of the Week. In another record breaking display, Howell set a UNC freshman record for touchdown passes last week.

Whether this is fair or not, the performance of Howell this season is now what is expected of him. However, if the running game cannot get going against Duke, there will be even more pressure on Howell to make plays, both through the air and on the ground.

This is made even more difficult by the names on this week’s injury report. As mentioned previously, Heck is listed a questionable. Add in Dazz Newsome and Antoine Green on the questionable list, along with Dyami Brown as probable, and the situation gets even more precarious for Howell.

Turnovers

  • 45-10 victory at Virginia Tech.
  • 33-30 loss at home to Pitt.
  • 41-23 win against Georgia Tech.
  • 48-14 loss at Virginia.

The last four games have the Blue Devils swapping wins and losses. What are the commonalities in these games?

The difference between Duke wins and losses in conference play has been turnovers:

  • In two wins against VT and GT, Duke had a combined zero turnovers.
  • In two losses against Pitt and Virginia, the Blue Devils committed 11 turnovers.

With about forty less attempts on the year, Duke dual-threat quarterback Quentin Harris has double the interceptions than Howell. Additionally, the Blue Devils have put the ball on the ground 10 times and lost eight of those.

Needless to say, if Harris can be contained and his passes disrupted, the Tar Heels will have a chance to turn the ball over.

With a sold out crowd again in Kenan, the fans need to get behind the defense to provide that jolt the Tar Heels need.